The Massachusetts Zoning Enabling Act has long provided that local zoning ordinances and by-laws can’t prohibit, unreasonably regulate, or require a special permit for, agricultural uses on parcels of five acres or more. The legislature recently reduced the minimum lot size to qualify for these special protections from five acres to two acres, as long as the sale of agricultural products produced on that parcel generates at least $1,000 per acre based on gross sale dollars. The relevant change appears in Section 79 (pdf) of Chapter 240 of the Acts of 2010.
What does this mean as a practical matter? An existing nursery located on five acres or more may be able to sell a building lot or two, because now it can maintain its agriculture protection with just two acres. Similarly, a new nursery can now be established on a two-acre parcel, as long as it sells $2,000 per year in products grown on-site – a requirement that shouldn’t be difficult to meet. The nursery can then sell hundreds of thousands of dollars of agricultural products – flowers, trees, shrubs – that were grown off-site, because the statute already provides that nursery stock is considered to be produced by the owner or lessee of the land if it is nourished, maintained and managed while on the premises.
Another example is a horse farm. Massachusetts law is clear that raising and boarding horses is an agricultural use. A two-acre horse farm with 25 horses, a lesson program and weekend shows in an otherwise residential neighborhood may not be what the neighbors had in mind when they moved to the suburbs.
An agricultural use on a two-acre parcel will still have to meet the previously existing requirement that during the months of June, July, August and September (or during the harvest season, if different), the majority of the products offered for sale are produced on-site.